HAUNTS: Week 2

Writer Susie Hennessy muses on week 2 of our HAUNTS project. In this session the writers retraced audio walks which had been made from a route created in the very first session.

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The general area of the initial walks

Saturday 25th March, 2017  |  Author: Susie Hennessy

Fresh from our first week’s creative endeavours (and with many tales of ingenious solutions to sound engineering incompetence to share), the Haunts team arrived at New Perspectives base camp this morning, armed with a newly-forged collection of Nottingham-based audio walks, and keen to discover the extent to which these fruits of our labours would function interactively. Since exploring the Nottingham cityscape last Saturday (quite in spite of the inclement weather), my fellow writers and I have been busy designing and recording these pieces, with the intention of documenting our perceptions of three separate routes through the bustling town centre, whilst simultaneously guiding our listeners in such a way that they might retrace our footsteps. The proof of the pudding is, of course, in the eating, and so it was necessary for us to return to the scene of last week’s crime (?) this afternoon, so that we could all ‘plug in’ to each other’s works, in turn, and test our narrative and navigational skills, as well as our nerves.

Nottingham Contemporary Museum, NottinghamThere is something both exhilarating and terrifying about sharing a fledgling written work with others, and so, after a short tram ride (magnificent interlude for this humble Lincolnite) from NP to Nottingham Contemporary (the starting point for each of our walks), we assembled, loaded up the relevant tracks on our respective electronic devices, and donned earphones, all with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I noticed, before we even set out on the first walk, that I felt a real sense of responsibility, not only as a writer who would, essentially, instruct my ‘audience’ through an incredibly busy city (today’s weather bringing with it a far greater flurry of animation and merriment than we saw last week), but also as a listener, keen to follow the correct path, and to avoid making a wrong turn. Added to this, I was somewhat apprehensive about the attention that a lost soul, wandering about in headphoned isolation, disconnected from the outside world, might attract in an urban environment, where folk going about their business, understandably, take none-too- kindly to the distracted and the disorientated stumbling blindly into their paths. As we embarked on the first walk, however, my fears were quickly quelled, and I actually found a real sense of unity (as well as of, paradoxically, solitude) in the knowledge that others were taking this quite remarkable journey with me. As we progressed through this afternoon’s sequence of experiences, as a group, we were all keenly aware that we had been permitted the luxury of viewing the landscape through the eyes of others, and found it fascinating to consider the ways in which this particular medium can guide collective vision, regardless of the fact that it is, in many ways, subject to the vagaries of a completely spontaneous environment (which we found often adds something quite wonderful, and unexpected, to the pre-recorded, set text).

Whilst I know that comparison of self to others is a deadly trap to be avoided at all costs, I must admit that I found myself to be in awe of the rich characterisation that defined the first two pieces we listened to this afternoon (I drew the short straw and found myself last on the playlist!), and of the very precise and evocative stories that both communicated to their audiences. As we set the wheels of my walk in motion, I realised that my narrative could have been less ‘tour guide-esque’, and more playful in places, although I was heartened, later on, to hear that the philosophical reflections I included in the script had served to shape its character. On a practical note, I think we all found, as the works went from page to stage, that there were moments where our ‘instructions’ to the listener might have been a little clearer, and so we all reaped some very tangible benefits from our maiden voyage together. There can be no doubt that we all approached this task completely differently, and that we each have our own unique concerns and insights that we will be able to draw upon, not only in our individual creative work, but also in our collaboration with one another, which, I might add, felt organic and fruitful at the end of today’s session, as we discussed each of our pieces in turn. As an aspiring writer and actor who has recently emerged from a detour of several years in academia, I am trying to shake off my objective, ‘teacherly’ voice (the voice that I recognised only too clearly in my audio walk today), and find a literary voice that is more authentically mine; as this project finds me, happily, surrounded by writers who are skilled in the arts of writing poetry, drama, and fiction, it is already becoming clear that Haunts has presented me with an invaluable opportunity to develop my own writing style, whilst learning from, and with, likeminded others.

Behind the Sandwich

As New Perspective’s latest adaptation of a Children’s classic The Giant Jam Sandwich plays to children and their families on tour the company’s Artistic Director, Jack McNamara, says that the key to successful children’s theatre is making the content as rich as that for adult audiences. 

The world of children’s picture books can be a place where imaginations go into overdrive, not only for readers but also for theatre programmers.

At their best, children’s books tell brilliantly concise stories in original and often provocative ways. Whatever your age, it’s hard to resist being inspired by the tongue-twisting brilliance of Dr Seuss, the dry minimalism of Jon Klassen, or the outlandish humour of Babette Cole. These artists, among many others in this area, push their form as far as they can and bring readers, old and young, with them.

But work for children has often been connected to an avant-garde sensibility. The composer Carl Stalling’s music for the early Warner Brothers cartoons is considered some of the most progressive modern composition of its time; full of stop-start rhythms and bouncing between genres.

Inspired by all these great innovators, when New Perspectives produce work for children we make it as a rich an offer as anything we would make for adults. That means investing as much into our design, casting and dramaturgy as we would for our ‘grown-up’ productions.

Like the best of children’s writing, we also make sure our work doesn’t shy away from potentially tricky themes. A recent production of ours made for audiences aged seven plus – a collection of rare Ted Hughes plays titled The Tiger’s Bones and Other Stories – comprised of three short works that explored subjects such as religion, worker’s rights, colonialism and the death-wish of technology. And kids loved it!

The Giant Jam Sandwich is our latest children’s show,  an adaptation of John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway’s outrageously good 1972 picture book.

The story presents a conflict between a community of villagers and a swarm of wasps and, as the title suggests, a solution for trapping them. Yet even in such a joyous and exuberant book, there are complex themes worth mining.

There is the latent theme of foreign invasion in the original story that, without turning it into a political allegory, we choose to explore in our production. Our main way of doing so is by giving the wasps in our version a voice, so that audiences hear their side of events too.

After all, conflict is rarely a straightforward subject and perhaps the less we are taught to see the world in black and white terms the better. This is why, at New Perspectives, the focus of our creative energy is on the constant search for something unexpected that triggers the imagination to offer a glimpse of a show waiting to happen.

 The Giant Jam Sandwich is currently touring –  please see tour dates  here

photo: L-R Jack McNamara (Artistic Director, New Perspectives), John Vernon Lord (illustrator and author)

Interview with Michael Pinchbeck – EP’s “A Fortunate Man” Project

Theatre maker Michael Pinchbeck  talks about his involvement with the 2017 Emerging Perspectives’ artist development project inspired by John Berger’s masterpiece A Fortunate Man

1. John Berger’s 1967 book, A Fortunate Man is often described as a masterpiece of social observation. How did this project come about?

New Perspectives’ Artistic Director, Jack McNamara thought there might be a creative response we could make to the book to mark its 50th anniversary in 2017. I read the book twice cover to cover and thought it was a really beautiful piece of writing with evocative photos that give a vivid sense of time, place and one man’s life. It speaks of the way a doctor works, but back when the relationship between a doctor and their patients was very different to today. There’s a kind of romanticism about it, between the doctor and his work, the author and his subject. Since John Berger died in January, I think that romanticism has grown slightly and it feels timely and important to revisit the book and see how we can interpret it. At the same time, there is a lot of topical debate about the state of the NHS so we want to mark the 50th anniversary of the book and look at how things have changed since it was written.

2. John Berger’s work has influenced an illustrious line of theatre-makers. When did you first become aware of his work?

I know he worked closely with Complicite and also wrote his own plays. I actually read his book Ways of Seeing when I was doing an MA at NTU. I then cited his work quite a lot for my recent PhD at Loughborough University. He says something that is really important to artists working on a project: ‘to understand a landscape we have to situate ourselves in it’. I think about this when I make a show. You have to try and understand the world you are writing about, through research, through visiting places, through talking to people, and that is what we will do for this project.

3. This project sees you pair up with your frequent collaborator, photographer Julian Hughes. What do you hope to explore together through this project?

Because the book was a collaboration between John Berger and a photographer, Jean Mohr, I wanted the core of this project to be a collaboration with a photographer too. I have worked with Julian for over 10 years now on performance projects and he brings a brilliant visual awareness to the work and documents it beautifully. I am hoping he is going to be able to work with the selected visual artists and share with them how best to capture life in doctors’ surgeries, sensitively and discreetly, while also revealing a little more about the beauty of the everyday. I will work with the writers and theatre makers and then we will bring our work together.

4. The project is part of New Perspectives’ engagement programme, placing you as an established artist with emerging artists from the East Midlands region. What skills are you looking for in these creatives?

An ability to think creatively and find interesting solutions to challenging situations. I enjoy working with people who think on their feet, where the doing is the thinking. I don’t like talking too much about the work, I just like getting on and doing it. I hope we can find a group of artists who are all on the same wavelength and who can bring their complementary skills to the process. It is going to be a bit like a jigsaw.

5. These emerging artists will be working with you over a four-month period. What can they expect from the project?

They can expect to become a cross between artists and detectives, as we go out on a kind of field trip to visit different surgeries in different communities, like the one John Berger writes about in the book. His doctor, John Sassall, would visit people’s houses and know different generations of the same family and we want to see what doctors now are like. In the book, John Sassall says that he sometimes wonders how much he is the last of the old traditional country doctors and how much he is a doctor of the future. He asks if you can be both and I suppose we are exploring what this idea of a doctor of the future might look like. I want us all to bring a different lens to the process, as writer, photographer or artist. And I want us to be able to tell the story of John Berger’s book and the doctor that inspired it. Tragically, the doctor in the book took his own life, and I think this might be our starting point.

6. Lastly, what advice would you give to creatives who are thinking of applying to this project?

Make the work you want to make. Be the artist you want to be. Be yourself.

 

The A Fortunate Man project will run from April – July 2017. Keep a look our for project updates on  www.newperspectives.co.uk 

 

Creating The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord

I am often asked by children, parents and teachers what made me think up the ideas for my books. Many of the ideas for my picture books seem to have come out of small experiences in my life that I have wanted to reflect upon and then the wish to turn part of these memory glimpses into fantasy stories for children. My father has a loose connection with some of the stories I’ve done: with his advice as to how to get rid of wasps at picnics (for The Giant Jam Sandwich); the fact that I was too scared to tell him that I had lost one of my new roller-skates when I was a boy at school (for Mr Ellwood’s chase in The Runaway Roller-skate); and his annoyance at his next door neighbour for chucking snails over the garden wall (for the exploits of Mr Mead and his Garden).

I am describing here the background and evolution of events that led to the publication of The Giant Jam Sandwich, as this will probably be the most familiar of my children’s books. The story tells how a village called Itching Down is invaded by wasps one hot summer and of the residents’ efforts to rid themselves of their unwelcome guests by baking a huge loaf and spreading a slice of it with jam. As the wasps begin to gorge themselves on the strawberry jam, a second slice of bread is dropped on top of them from a great height (with the aid of helicopters and a flying tractor) and squashes flat most of the wasps, trapping them inside the sandwich. While all the villagers rejoice in a celebration, the wasp-filled sandwich is finally taken out to sea by hundreds of crows for the rest of the birds to feast upon.

The idea for this story was prompted by an event, which took place during an August holiday in Devon. My family was staying at a fairly remote farmhouse in Milton Damerel with a couple of friends who had two young boys, Alexander and Jonathan, aged five and three years. These young lads were terrified by wasps and, whenever there was a buzzing sound about the dining table or picnic cloth, they would squeal with alarm until the offending insects were removed from the scene.

One afternoon, during a walk across the fields, Alexander started to scream and shout because a wasp insisted on hovering continually about him. In order to quell his anxiety and divert his attention I settled the two boys and our three girls on the grass and, on the spur of the moment, proceeded to invent the bare bones of the story of what came to be The Giant Jam Sandwich.

wasp-and-jamThe germ of the idea must have sprung from my own childhood memory of my father’s habit of placing a slice of jam-covered crust some distance away from where we were picnicking in order to encourage aggravating wasps away from our food. My father was a baker, who had a bakery and cafe in Glossop in Derbyshire and you can see his old shop at the end of the book when the villagers are dancing. In the book my father can be seen in his familiar white coat, puffing upon his pipe and standing at the door of ‘Bert’s Cafe’.  I spent many hours working in his bake house on Saturdays and during the vacation period when I was an art student and I can remember hurling lumps of discarded dough at any wasp that dared to venture in and hover about the white tiled walls.

Over the years I have often received letters from children. On the first page of the book we can see the wasps swarming towards the village; ‘four million’ of them it states in the text. I once had a letter from a classroom of school children asking me why I had not drawn all the four million wasps as stated in the text. I wrote back saying that it took me on average about 45 seconds to draw a single wasp and I suggested that they should work out how long it would have taken me to draw all four million wasps. The answer is 180 million seconds, or 3 million minutes, or 50 thousand hours, or 2,083 days, making it nearly five years and nine months (if you were working on it 24 hours a day!).

John Vernon Lord originally presented this article as a case study at Bookquest in 1984; it was re-produced in ‘An author’s view: John Vernon Lord talking about picture books’ published in Reflections on Early Reading by Collins in 1990 and updated for a paper presented in Barcelona in 1999.

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The Giant Jam Sandwich opens as a half term treat in association with Derby LIVE at Derby’s Guildhall Theatre on Saturday 11 February with performances daily at 11am and 2.30pm through to Saturday 18 February – you can book tickets here.

The production moves to Polka Theatre, Wimbledon, followed by tour dates around the country through to Saturday 25 March – you can see a full list of performance dates with booking links by clicking here.

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John Vernon Lord is an author, illustrator and teacher. His children’s books have been published widely and translated into several languages. His picture book The Giant Jam Sandwich has become a classic, having been in print for over forty-four years. His career in education includes being head of various departments and schools during his many years teaching at Brighton. He was Professor of Illustration at the University of Brighton 1986-99, where he is now Professor Emeritus. He was the chair of the Graphic Design Board of the Council for National Academic Awards 1981-84. He is allergic to wasps!

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Daisy’s ‘Oh Whistle’ Work Experience

During the school summer break Director Theresa Keogh held a script development week on Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You – a new stage adaptation of the M. R. James classic ghost story by visionary writer David Rudkin. Year 11 student Daisy Rogers from Lady Manners School, Bakewell attended an early reading and shared her insight at the beginning of the production process.

Coming to the read-through of Oh Whistle And I’ll Come To You was really great and a hugely appreciated experience. Just being able to sit and meet the team and cast was amazing.

Seeing how the team worked together was a real inspiration, as was seeing how professional actors read the play on script. If the play had just been read to me in a normal tone and voice I don’t think I would have understood it, but because the actors read it in character in different expressive voices it came alive in my head instead.

After the read through I was lucky enough to sit in on the chat between the team. This opened my eyes to how much work and planning goes on behind a production. I always thought a set would be simple to design, but who knew that the prospect of having a sheet on the stage, or how many projectors to use, if any, would be so difficult to decide. I now know and appreciate the behind-the-scenes work that goes into a production. Being there to experience the early stages of the play has left me thinking more about a career in theatre, especially as I came out with my head drowning with ideas of how you could get the set to work.

Thank you so much for letting me be there for such an amazing experience. I am looking forward to following the process and seeing how the production develops.

A few months on, Daisy returned to New Perspectives for some work experience during the rehearsal period for Oh Whistle And I’ll Come To You. It was a chance for her to see the words come off the page, and see the show physically materialise. She updated us on her experience of the process.

Having seen the beginning stages of Oh Whistle, And I’ll Come To You at the first read through, it was great to come and see how much the show had changed and developed.

I came into the rehearsal room on the first day to see a magnificent, yet unfinalised, set. This was great to see as I had been there when they were discussing how to do the set and how it would look. I was lucky enough to spend some time with Cecilia (the set designer) and Theresa (the director). In this time, they were working out how to get certain parts of the set to work. I enjoyed being part of that and watching and helping the development. It had given me a great insight into how a set is designed and I am now becoming very interested the aspect of theatre design.

I am interested in directing a small show, and watching the development of Oh Whistle has given me some great ideas and pointers on how to do it. It was interesting to see how professionals create a show and how much expression they put into their characters.

On my second day, I spent most of the day helping upstairs, getting an idea of how the advertising and social side of a production is managed. I helped by creating a spreadsheet about social media marketing. It was a good experience to see how the ‘hidden’ side of theatre works.

By the end of my three days at New Perspectives I felt at home and felt like I had been accepted as part of the team and was having fun conversations about the play with the cast and crew. I am very grateful to have been able to spend time at New Perspectives and it has taught me a lot about how a show is developed. Thank you to everyone at New Perspectives for involving me and letting me have such a great experience. I am really looking forward to seeing the final production.

Here are some pictures I took while I was watching the rehearsals.

You can see Oh Whistle, And I’ll Come To You in its finished state on tour from now until Saturday 10 December.

Charlie’s ‘Oh Whistle’ Work Experience

On 17th October, Charlie Harris, a yr. 11 student from Toot Hill School, joined us for a week of work experience. He arrived at an exciting time, having just started rehearsals for Oh Whistle, And I’ll Come To You. Charlie was in a unique position, joining the team of creatives helping to build the show; he has written about his time with the team, and what he learned.

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“My time at New Perspectives Theatre Company was fun and interactive in a multitude of ways; each one I enjoyed more than the last. I started my week by joining the cast and crew for a read through of the script for their new show Oh Whistle, And I’ll Come To You. By the end of the read through I felt confused about the script and what it meant but with the help of the director and actors I quickly managed to overcome this and to gain a thorough understanding of the themes and meaning. In the afternoon, after a lovely and engaging lunch where I had an opportunity to chat with the actors and to learn more about life as an actor, we researched the life of the author of the original short story – a man called M. R. James. We learnt about his childhood and why he began to write short stories, after this we thought of some questions we had about the script and tried to pool our knowledge and answer them ourselves; often this could not be done so we resorted to sending off some questions to the author of the script, David Rudkin.

During the next day David had replied with answers to the questions we sent him so we all read through his notes, learning a lot as we went. After this we read through the original short story authored by M. R. James, giving us all an extra level of understanding of the script and a deeper insight into the reasons why James wrote the story. However, it also created a few more problems for us, such as understanding the philosophy referenced in the script, this included trying to decipher the meaning (and pronunciation!) of the words ‘identity’, ‘ostension’ and ‘hypostasis’!

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(L-R) Actors Jack Wilkinson and Mark Jardine in rehearsals

For the next three days we got into the bit which I enjoyed the most: we started to block through the script and started acting which, as an aspiring actor myself, really helped me understand some of the fundamentals of acting but also some more complex techniques. I really felt at home and a member of the company at this point as I was able to fully voice my opinion and thoughts on every scene. Also even though I was not acting, just by watching the two actors at work I learned so much and was able to progress my skills by leaps and bounds.

During my time at New Perspectives I felt at home and valued; it was such a nice space to work in and to be in. Even though I was just there for work experience everyone accepted me as if I was a permanent member of the team. I enjoyed the experience immensely and learnt so much and for that I am very thankful to the theatre for allowing me to join them.”

New Perspectives is hosting a Rehearsal Lunch on Saturday 5th November, 12.15 – 2pm, giving everyone the opportunity to have their own behind-the-scenes creative experience.  We invite you to observe a rehearsal session, followed by a continental buffet lunch with the director and cast. Learn more about the event and book your place online, or contact Claudia on 0115 973 9123 or claudia@newperspectives.co.uk.

In the Shadow of Orgreave by Martin Miller

And so it’s all over bar the shouting. After 4 weeks of intensive work on John Harvey’s excellent stage adaptation of his final Charlie Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness, we now leave the relative safety of the New Perspectives rehearsal room in Basford and move into the Nottingham Playhouse from next week to start the technical and dress rehearsals for what will be the next show of the Sweet Vengeance season. If anything, this is where all the hard work needs to come together. The actors need to adjust their performances from the intimacy of the rehearsal room to the theatrical space without losing any of the subtleties and truth of their characterisations that have been developed through the rehearsal process (so rule one: don’t panic, rule two: don’t start shouting). Our hardworking technical crew including Kathryn Wilson (Deputy Stage Manager), Drew Baumhol (Sound Designer), Azusa Ono (Lighting Designer), Ruth Sutcliffe (Set Designer) amongst many others will be collaborating with our director Jack McNamara to bring the world of the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike and Harvey’s CWA Dagger award – winning Detective Charlie Resnick seamlessly to life, and from Friday 30th September audiences will see the finished product.

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Actors Emma Thornett & Martin Miller in rehearsals

I have been impressed throughout this process by the collaboration between Jack McNamara and John Harvey. It is rare for directors and writers to cooperate so effectively. I worked with Jack on a previous New Perspectives play about Alfred Hitchcock and he has a strong sense of how to engage with a piece visually, almost filmically, and in collaboration with our Video Designer, Will Simpson, audiences will find themselves transported to the heart of a mining community bitterly divided by the strike, and of a murder investigation 30 years later which threatens to open these divisions once more. Harvey’s skill has been in not only placing Resnick front and centre of this action in the theatrical space, but also in bringing the world of this torn mining community to life. One could argue that the work is even more politically charged and relevant today with the recent announcement of an inquiry into the events at ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ . Harvey’s play explicitly references Orgreave and its aftermath, indeed Resnick finds himself conflicted by the police conduct on that day, and we see the casual brutality of the Met. The recent inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster laid bare the failings of South Yorkshire police and the Hillsborough families had to fight courageously and persistently for years to get any semblance of justice. The Orgreave families have had an even longer wait. Indeed, post-Brexit result, it appeared the issue could conceivably be dropped from the government agenda altogether. How can one even begin to disentangle the bloody events at Orgreave, of systematic and systemic state and police collusion, the very worst example and excess of what Tristram Hunt MP called ‘legalised state violence’?

Over thirty years on, the events of the Miners’ Strike still divide communities and we see in the play how these divisions are just as raw today. All of this plus at the heart of the play we see the dogged determination of Charlie Resnick to solve one last murder case before his impending retirement. John Harvey first created his famous Nottingham Detective back in 1988 and I am confident that with the team Jack McNamara has put together and the strong collaboration between cast, production team, director and author that we can do it justice. As we head into our final rehearsal week, John Harvey’s beloved Notts County have just beaten Leyton Orient 3 – 1. Surely a good omen? Hope to see all you Resnick afficionados in the theatre bar afterwards for a drop of Highland Park. “No sense arguing, Resnick raised his glass and drank…”.

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David Fleeshman as Charlie Resnick in rehearsals

Darkness, Darkness opens at the Nottingham Playhouse Friday 30 September until Saturday 15 October. Tickets available from the Nottingham Playhouse website and at their Box Office on 0115 9419419.